Sunday, January 01, 2012

Commercial Expertise

"You had some purple ski goggles with a picture of Lindsey Vonn on them. Did they get sold?" the customer asked.

The goggles had sold. The customer left the counter to browse around other displays.

It's only a matter of luck that I know who Lindsey Vonn is. I barely do. I just happen to recognize the name from some downhill ski coverage I caught somewhere along the line. It made me notice the difference between the expertise of real experience as opposed to commercial expertise: knowing the trends and buzz words your customers are likely to use before they come in and use them on you.

In my ideal life I would spend a lot of time actually skiing. At one time the ideal and the real coincided enough to give me a solid amount of experience I could use to help less experienced skiers make good choices selecting skis for groomed or off-trail use. This kind of expertise is almost useless in a commercial setting. This is the point the management of Jackson Ski Touring was trying to make when they kept trying to get me to spend a lot less time trying to educate customers and a lot more time separating them more quickly from their money and shoveling them out of the lodge. A boring expert, no matter how helpful, is a lot less attractive than a cheerful, fashion-conscious servant who knows exactly what the customer is talking about at any level and has a quick solution for a price, ready to deploy.

Mind you, in the heyday of the servant class their cheerful demeanor hid all manner of scheming. That almost did not matter to the ruling class as long as no one gave them any attitude. The commercial expert needs a touch more showmanship than a mere servant, but the facade is still more important than actual stick time with the product being sold.

Here in Wolfe City the clientele is a bit less high strung and the management is as woefully unfashionable as I am. We're all stupid enough to believe that actually skiing counts for a lot and that the truth often trumps the misleading presentations of the industry that feeds off of the activity. No doubt that explains a lot about our financial circumstances. The poor bastards hired someone to whom principle matters. You know THAT always leads to the poor house.

At this point no one is skiing much. One wonders whether we're seeing the quick end to the cross-country ski era in the United States. If we don't get some winter soon we might be better off making funky furniture out of the rack full of weird, colored sticks in the showroom and devoting ourselves to bicycling year-round. That's actually a diverse enough industry to support many points of view and it doesn't depend on a very narrow and increasingly rare range of conditions to survive.

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